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Archive for February, 2014

Jazz at Trailblazers 2-21-14

Final Score: Trailblazers 102, Jazz 94

The Jazz gave one of their more impressive road efforts of the 2013-14 season, going toe-to-toe with the 36-18 Trailblazers for 45-minutes before folding late. While Alec Burks provided a scoring spark in the 1st-half and Gordon Hayward turned in a quietly impressive line (17 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists on 5-11 shooting), the two stars of the game for Utah were clearly Trey Burke and Enes Kanter.

Trey Burke

Burke scored 21 points on 8-16 shooting from the field and 3-5 from behind the arc, while also dishing 7 assists and grabbing 6 rebounds.

Burke completely owned the 3rd-quarter, in which he scored 12 points and handed out 3 assists on a perfect 5-5 shooting, including two threes. In addition, the rookie made an outstanding steal in which he face-guarded Lillard and drifted with him along the three-point line and used his peripheral vision to deflect an incoming kickout pass, that directly led to a throw-ahead assist to Alec Burks for a fastbreak layup.

Although Burke shot just 3-8 on the pick&roll, one of his misses (a driving left-hand layup) freed up Kanter for an uncontested tip-in and another attempted floater enabled Burke to rebound his own miss and score so in reality Utah was 5-10 when he shot via screen-roll. Additionally, on mid-range pick&roll jumpshots Burke hit an impressive 3-4 – critical considering it is Portland’s intent to force opponents to take contested midrange shots while trying to minimize scramble rotations that often lead to open threes and paint points.

Burke nailed 2 of his 3 catch&shoot three-point attempts and of his 7 assists, 4 came in transition (or early offense before the defense could setup) while two others were setting the table for a Kanter jumper via pick&pop.

Burke’s a playmaker with the ability to push the tempo (if the Jazz ever try to do that) and create for his teammates but right now it comes down to making shots. After inexplicably sitting for the first 6 minutes of the 4th-quarter (in which the Jazz shot 1-11 and were outscored 14-2), he came back in the game and confidently drilled a right-wing three to pull Utah back to within 83-80. There’s no question that even as a rookie Trey Burke wants to be the guy to take and make all the big shots, and that’s a quality that will only bode well for the future as the Jazz look to him run the show over the next several seasons.

Enes Kanter

Enes Kanter tied his career-high with 25 points on 12-20 shooting, to go along with 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks.

Most impressively, Kanter scored his points in a variety of ways. He shot 2-3 and scored 5 points when getting touches on the left-block. He shot 3-4 from direct opportunities via the pick&roll, including 2-3 on pick&pop jumpers. He scored 6 points on 3-6 shooting on offensive rebounds and he was a perfect 4-4 playing off-the-ball as a weakside dive/kickout man (including 2-2 on spotup mid-range jumpers).

He’s shown he can be an effective low-post scorer but doesn’t demand the ball to find ways to contribute, with his offensive rebounding and pick&pop ability helping to round out his game.

Kanter also started in place of Favors in Utah’s December-9th meeting with Portland and had an impressive game as well, scoring 19 points on 50% shooting as Utah also hung in against the Blazers before another late collapse.

Kanter’s Screen-Roll Defense

From the outset one member of the Utah Jazz broadcast team made it a point to harp on what he considered poor defense by Kanter – namely Kanter’s refusal to show out and contest a lot of shots on the pick&roll. Similar to how teams used to attack Al Jefferson in the previous two seasons, Portland made it a priority to involve Kanter in defending pick&roll as often as possible.

Utah’s strategy remained simple – allow Kanter to drop back into the lane and force Portland into taking a lot of mid-range jumpshots. Of the 41 direct pick&rolls that involved Kanter defending the screener, Utah allowed just 31 points on initial defense (not counting second-change opportunities).  Of those 41 plays, Portland shot 13-34 (38.2) from the field, drew 3 fouls (resulting in 4-4 from the foul line) and turned the ball over 4 times. Most impressively, out of their 34 shot attempts only two were three-point field goals.

Obviously the Blazers missed LaMarcus Aldrige’s mid-range shooting but when Kanter was involved in defending screen-roll, Utah could not have asked for better results against Portland’s high-octane offense. One negative is how susceptible Utah leaves themselves on the offensive glass. With Marvin playing at PF, anytime their center (be it Kanter or Favors) leaves his man to help, Utah is left with a huge disadvantage trying to rebound the basketball (12 offensive rebounds for Portland tonight).

Nevertheless, allowing 31 points on 41 possessions speaks for itself. Considering there were also a handful of plays where the initial screen-roll yielded no shot so Portland continued to move the ball, admonishing Kanter’s defensive performance last night is not only unnecessary but ridiculous.

Kanter will give up points at the rim but he also did a good job staying vertical in his challenges which resulted in quite a few Portland misses in the paint (many by Lillard who is among the poorer finishers in the basket area). It’s also important to remember Kanter isn’t a shotblocking force. Jerry Sloan didn’t rant and rave on the sideline when Mehmet Okur didn’t block a shot and Kanter deserves a similar approach. What you ask for from Kanter is good positional defense where he can use his 6-11 frame to contest shots to the best of his ability, and if the ball still goes in the hoop you can live with it because he can contribute in a lot of other ways.

(Side Tangent: It’s also absurd to criticize Kanter when he leaves his man to pick up a free driver toward the rim and then gets burned because no one rotated to his man. In Jazzbasketball that’s called “helping the helper” and it’s very difficult to be a good defensive team when your defensive rotations can’t extend to that level.)

Blazers announcer Mike Rice may have said it best late in the 3rd-quarter, “Once again, Kanter has been the man in there, he’s been able to defend that rim against – and I mean everybody is dribble-driving for the Blazers – and testing him. So far he’s not done a bad job at all.”

Portland’s 4th-Quarter Huddle

One really neat thing about the Blazers telecast is Portland’s sideline reporter, Michael Holton, was able to listen in on the Blazers’ huddle during the timeout and then relay that information to the viewers prior to the start of the 4th-quarter.

Holton reported: “Well the entire timeout was spent talking about defense. Terry Stotts wants the Blazers to keep the ball on the sideline and then rotate the defense to the [middle]. They’re (Utah) turning the corner, getting all the way to the rim. He spent the entire timeout breaking down how they need to correct that.”

Some of those adjustments were noticeable on a Burks turnover (7:59 4th-Qtr) where they pushed him wide and stole the ball as he tried to come back middle but a lot of it came down to Robin Lopez closing up the middle when there appeared to be gaps in the defense.

Regardless, it’s nice to be given access to that type of inside information as the game progresses. It was reminiscent to the days of the NBA on NBC when Jim Gray would camp by Utah’s bench and report Jerry Sloan’s message to his team during timeouts.

The Final Word

Overall last night’s is precisely the type of contest you hope the Jazz have more of as the season winds down. Although Portland is in a bit of a funk while playing without LaMarcus Aldrige and an under-the-weather Nicolas Batum, the Jazz’s young core came to play and pushed the Blazers to their limit, forcing Portland to elevate their game to another level. I believe it’s those 10-12 minute stretches when opponents raise their intensity like Portland did to start the 4th-quarter that is ultimately more beneficial to Utah’s growth and development than the other 36 minutes played at the regular speed limit.

Burke, Burks, Hayward, and Kanter all had their moments on the road against a good team. At this point when you know what to expect from the coaching and other role players, that sort of thing is really all you can ask for at this point. I don’t believe in moral victories in professional sports, but if there is such a thing as a “good loss,” this was probably it.

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Malone vs Garnett Feb-17-2003

Lost amid Wednesday night’s homecoming buzz for former Jazzmen Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko was the very real possibility that Brooklyn’s 105-99 victory over the Jazz could have been the final game Kevin Garnett ever plays in Utah.

The first time Kevin Garnett played a regular season game at the Delta Center, he came off the bench behind Sam Mitchell. His head coach at the time, Flip Saunders, boasted a coaching record that stood at 1-4 and not the 638-526 mark it does today. The leading scorers on his team were Tom Gugliotta, J.R. Rider and Sean Rooks.

Sound like nearly two decades ago? It was. Trey Burke was 3 at the time.

On that late December evening in 1995, a 19-year old KG scored 6 points and grabbed 6 rebounds in 22 minutes for the Timberwolves. On Wednesday night, a 37-year old KG scored 6 points and grabbed 4 rebounds in 17 minutes.

While KG’s play and production has marginally decline for the past several seasons in Boston, this season it has fallen off the proverbial cliff to the point the Big Ticket is now obviously running on fumes.

My most fond memories of Kevin Garnett are the fierce battles he had against Karl Malone and the respect he showed for him. On January 19, 2000, KG scored a game-high 31 points in defeating the division-leading Jazz 91-88 at the Delta Center. Following the game, the 23-year old Garnett approached the 36-year old Malone and told the league’s reigning MVP he disagreed with the recently released All-Star voting, feeling that Malone deserved to be a starter and not himself.

The respect KG showed for the league’s greatest power forward continued ten days later in Minneapolis. Karl Malone surpassed the 30,000th point plateau, a milestone that was recognized by the Target Center’s public address announcer. As the T-Wolves fans offered their polite applause, Garnett waved his arms to exhort the crowd and Malone ended up receiving a standing ovation from the Minnesota fans.

Despite the dissimilarities in their styles and KG spending the first 4 years of his career at small forward, in many ways both players redefined the power forward position. Malone became the best to ever play the position by merging his relentless physicality and power with an elite scoring skillset. Garnett brought finesse and athleticism to go with remarkable dexterity and unbridled passion in showing the position could be played post-1980’s at an elite level despite a lack of broad shoulders and powerful frame. He’s arguably the greatest defensive power forward to ever play the game and represents the prototype for the ideal power forward in the new millennium.

The other similarity both Malone and Garnett shared is they played the game the right way – passionately and competitively – giving maximum intensity and effort at both ends of the court all toward one goal that wasn’t self-promotion but rather winning. They were old school with their toughness and their attitude, as KG brought some of the NBA’s 90’s nastiness into the new “hug and kiss” post Artest-melee league. Combined with an ability to score the basketball that few power forwards have ever possessed, when those two faced off they treated fans to battles that only augments the their legendary careers with the passing of time. Their meeting on February 17, 2003 is a perfect example.

A few of things to note:

  • First, their statlines. Garnett scored a game-high 34 points, to go with 10 rebounds, 6 assists 1 steal and 1 block. Malone scored 28 points with 9 rebounds and 6 assists. Both were incredibly efficient, with KG shooting 13-22 (59%) from the field and 7-9 from the foul line. Malone shot 10-14 (71%) and 8-9 from the stripe.
  • Second, their effort. It was a 12-point game with a minute to play, and both Malone and Garnett show no hesitation in diving to the floor for a loose-ball. Malone was 39 year old. Garnett had dislocated a finger on his right hand earlier but still wedged his hand in while wrestling for the basketball (in the 3rd-quarter KG walked to the bench, sat down, looked away as the trainer popped it back in and then returned to the game).
  • Third, label this exhibit-Z why Karl Malone was a freak of nature. He was 39 years old and still capable of playing at this level. THIRTY-NINE! For as much as KG’s mind wants to play at a certain level, this season he is calcifying right before our eyes at age 37. Considering Garnett’s in his 19th season and has played over 48,000 minutes, that’s certainly expected but it just illustrates the absurd and unmatched degree to which Karl Malone defied Father Time, even in 2003 during his 18th season at over 52,000 career minutes.
  • Final Note: On Jerry Sloan’s technical, the urgency at which Jazz trainer Gary Briggs and assistant Gordan Chiesa moved to reel him followed by Jerry’s subtle wink and “I’m all right” assurance has a small backstory. This was only Jerry’s second game back since returning from a 7-game suspension for shoving referee Courtney Kirkland. Given that this was his first technical foul since and that it involved Violet Palmer, it’s apparent everyone on the Jazz was relieved the situation was diffused quickly.

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While some may prefer Garnett to call it quits as soon as possible, I have no problem with him playing until the well runs completely dry. Great players who have given so much to the game deserve to leave on their terms, not their fans’ terms.

Personally, I’ve always felt more closure when a great athlete retires well past his prime rather than during it. This was true as Malone limped to the finish line in the 2004 playoffs with LA and when Michael Jordan finished out his career in DC. They may not have been as good as they once were, but every once in a while they would come close and those games just felt magical – as if you were granted the gift to travel back in time to witness one final great performance as the curtain was lowering for good.

The end may be near for KG’s career, but that will in no way tarnish the brilliance of his illustrious career. And when Garnett is rightfully inducted into Springfield, it would be fitting if Karl Malone was the one to present him.

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Nets at Jazz 2-19-2014 #1

Nets 105, Jazz 99

Like many sports-loving families, growing up my Dad and I would play pickup basketball in our driveway. By the time I reached junior high, I was tall, quick, and athletic enough to beat him handily, but I didn’t. Every game felt like a battle to the final shots* (*win by two). My Dad was still heavier and stronger, so he would back me down from about 20-feet and shoot an unblockable hook shot off our very forgiving backboard. Defensively, he would stand about 12-feet from the basket and dare me to shoot from 19’9″ (the high school and at the time college three-point line). I would make enough threes and he enough high-percentage twos (we scored by 2’s and 3’s not 1’s and 2’s like is done today which further skews the value of a three-point shot) that it would come down to who could achieve the elusive score-stop-score sequence. At that point Dad would suddenly come out and guard me, not quick enough to stay in front of me but clever enough to reach in and rip the ball away as I made my go-to dribble-drive moves which he knew.

The point is my Dad played “old man basketball.” He would conserve energy and turn it into a game of fundamentals and standstill shooting for 80% of the game, then get serious and ball out with the game on the line.

That’s what the Nets did to the Jazz last night, they beat them playing “old man ball.” For 29 minutes the Nets allowed the Jazz to shoot open threes, outhustle them for loose balls and beat them up and down the court. Then Brooklyn got serious, outscoring Utah 50-31 in the game’s final 19 minutes.

Defensively the Nets suddenly were alive, contesting Utah on the perimeter (Utah shot 7-13 behind the arc in the 1st-half and just 2-11 in the 2nd-half) and ripping the ball away from them inside (5 Utah turnovers in the 4th-quarter versus 13 in the first 3).

This pattern can be expected for an aging Nets team boasting the 37-year old Kevin Garnett, a 36-year old Paul Pierce and a $200 million backcourt that oddly exudes a vibe that they’re also in their late 30’s olds rather than the 29 and 32 year-olds Deron Williams and Joe Johnson are, respectively.

Regardless, when it came to “winning time,” the Nets turned on a switch that Utah couldn’t match physically or mentally. This was a great learning experience for the likes of Alec Burks, Enes Kanter and Trey Burke – but is also problematic of being a season long cellar-dweller in the dead of winter. Opponents test the waters to see if they can get by with a B-effort before deciding to dip a toe in or wade in up to their chest. Sometimes (see Utah’s home wins over Miami and OKC wins) it bites them in the rear, but other times (GS 3 weeks ago and Brooklyn last night) it works and you can’t help but look back and wonder how much of Utah Jazz 1st and 2nd-quarters actually represent meaningful minutes when competing against teams giving marginal effort to start.

Alec Burks

Starting from opening night against OKC when he was the only difference between a double-digit home loss and a game that went down to the final shot, Alec Burks has enjoyed a break-through season averaging 13.6 points while shooting a respectable 45% from the field and 36% from behind the arc despite just playing 27.3 minutes per game. On a Per-36 Minute basis, Burks scoring increases to 17.9 points and his free throw attempts to 6.0 per game. (By comparison Hayward, Utah’s leading scorer at 16.2 pts/gm actually sees his Per-36 scoring averages decline slightly to 16.0).

In the past three games, Alec Burks has been phenomenal – averaging 24.3 points on 60% shooting with 11.3 free throw attempts per game in just 27.0 minutes. Even more incredible, he’s the first Jazz player to post three consecutive games of 20-points all coming off-the-bench since Jeff Malone in March of 1993.

I understand why it may be preferable to utilize a gifted scorer in a 6th-man role to provide scoring punch off-the-bench. However, on a lottery bound team in a season designated by everyone as a “rebuilding year,” none of those exist with Alec. The Jazz have virtually nothing to lose in starting Burks for the remainder of the season (also maximizing the on-court time a slumping Hayward has with another scorer on the wing) and very much to gain – including a potential starting 2-guard of their future.

To Foul or Not to Foul

As anyone who watched last night’s maddening ending would know, with 32.6 seconds remaining Alec Burks scored on a backdoor cut (off a fantastic left-hand bullet pass from Trey Burke) to pull the Jazz to within 99-95. Down 4 with an 8.6 second differential between shotclock and gameclock, intentionally fouling appeared to be a no-brainer. Yet the Jazz didn’t foul. On the replay you could even see Trey Burke glancing over his shoulder toward the Jazz sideline as he guarded the ball but Ty Corbin stood there frozen as 16 seconds ticked away before the Jazz finally (mercifully) fouled. (They had a foul to give so they had to foul again to send Brooklyn to the line). The Nets made both free throws to make it a 6-point game with 14.9 seconds left.

There’s a huge difference between a two-possession game with 30 seconds left and one with half of that time. To me, a general rule of thumb is in a 1-possession NBA game, an 8-second differential is perfectly acceptable to play it out. In a two-possession game, with anything less than a 10-second differential (or lack timeouts) you foul immediately because of the old adage you can regain possession but you can never put time back on the clock.

Heck, 4 years ago Jerry Sloan opted to immediately intentionally foul in what was merely a 3-point game with a 5-second differential. The difference became an extra-possession sequence that trimmed the deficit and was culminated by Sundiata Gaines giving Jazz fans arguably the single most euphoric moment in franchise history since Stockton hit “The Shot.” Whatever your strategy, hesitancy will kill clock and kill your team’s chances and that was the case last night.

Corbin’s postgame explanation made even less sense. The bottom line is the Utah Jazz coaching staff screwed up, with their eventual decision to foul after 16 seconds of passive defense being the ultimate admission of guilt.

Trade Deadline

If the Jazz do make a deal, there are two realistic goals I’d like the Jazz to accomplish.

1.) Asset accumulation. If Utah can pawn off a Marvin Williams, Richard Jefferson (unlikely) and even a Jeremy Evans (who I really like but whose bargain basement contract and off-the-bench skillset could make him very attractive to other teams) for a future protected 1st-round pick, I would do it in a heartbeat.

In the NBA, you need a star player and if you can’t sign one (thank you SLC) you either need to draft one or trade for one. To draft one you either need a top overall pick (looking unlikely for Utah in 2014) or a slew of potentially high picks in which you hope you strike oil with one. To trade for a superstar, you need to accumulate enough assets to make a godfather-type offer in the way Houston acquired a James Harden and Dwight Howard. Utah already has a slew of young talent combined with all of their own 1st-round picks plus two GS 1st-rounders. Add another one and then trust in Dennis Lindsey’s ability to draft/deal.

2.) Long-term Development. Alec Burks needs to start. Kanter (and to a lesser extent Favors) and Gobert need more minutes. If the Jazz can move one of their pending veteran unrestricted free agents (a Jefferson or Williams) who are causing a log-jam toward extending playing time for younger players who factor more prominently into the team’s future, the Jazz need to do it even if the return is only a corresponding expiring contract of a far lesser talent and/or a 2nd-round pick.

The Jazz aren’t making a surprise playoff push this season (unlike Jeff Hornacek’ Phoenix Suns). The Jazz vision has to be a 4-5 year window in which 2013-14 season is used to maximize the team’s future not pander to pending free agents the way they did in 2012-13 that netted them nothing both short-term and long-term.

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53 games down, 29 to go. In some ways the season feels like it’s taking forever and in other ways there are still a plethora of unanswered questions relating to the future of the Utah Jazz and dwindling time left to answer them. There has been noticeable growth and there has been substantial development, but hopefully we’ll see a lot more to fill in more of the blanks that the Jazz have not tried hard enough to fill.

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2013-14 Utah Jazz

With the Jazz gearing up for the final third of their season, let’s take a look and see what 2013-14 statistics carry historical significance and where some current Jazz players sit among the all-time ranks.

Jazz Three-Point Shooting

The Jazz twice set the franchise record for three-pointers attempted in a game in two double-digit losses within the span of 6 days (shooting just 33% and 34% in losses to the Clippers and Mavericks, respectively). The Jazz are currently on pace to set the franchise record for three-pointers made in a season during Game #77, and the record for three-point attempts in a season in Game #73.

In a trend that began under Jerry Sloan, the Utah Jazz have set franchise marks for three-point attempts in a season in 6 of the past 7 seasons starting in 2006-07 – with the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season the lone exception.

Derrick Favors

Favors is currently averaging 1.4 blocks per game this season. His blocks per 36 minutes are actually down substantially from last season’s 2.6 mark to 1.6 this season. Nevertheless, in less than 4 seasons Favors is already 13th on the Jazz career blocks list and just 7 blocks behind Otto Moore for 12th-place.

Gordon Hayward

In the 10 seasons since Stockton&Malone retired, the Jazz’s 6th, 8th, 9th, 12th, 13th, 15th and 18th all-time leading scorers have all passed through Utah. There is currently nobody in the top-25 on the 2013-14 roster, but Gordon Hayward is the closest. Hayward is just 81 points out of the 26th spot and 234 out of 25th. Hayward also needs 46 points to reach 3,000 for his career.

Trey Burke

Despite missing the first 12 games of the season Trey Burke, the Western Conference’s reigning Rookie of the Month, appears poised to break several Jazz rookie records in the final portion of the regular season – including three-point makes, three-point attempts and free throw percentage. He’s also on pace to finish second for most assists and 5th for most points by a Jazz rookie.

Individual Three-Point Records

With the Jazz shooting more three-pointers than ever before, several current Jazz players are etching their names amongst the more prolific long-range shooters in team history.

  • Gordon Hayward currently has the 9th-most three-point field goals made in team history, with Marvin Williams ranking 17th.
  • In terms of accuracy, Richard Jefferson’s 41.9% 3pt-FG accuracy is good for the second-highest career mark in team history. Gordon Hayward ranks 12th at a fluctuating 37.4%, Marvin Williams 15th at 36.3% and Alec Burks checks in at #18 with a 34.8% clip.

Tankapalooza

The Jazz’s 19-33 mark was their worst record entering the all-star break since the injury-ravaged 2004-05 season. That year the Jazz finished 26-56 – which represented the league’s 4th-worst record. In the 2005 Draft Lottery, the Jazz fell to 6th but were able to move up to #3 on draft night to select Deron Williams. If the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery were held today, the Jazz would be slotted 7th with a 4.3% chance at #1 and a 15.0% shot at the top-3.

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To keep track of the fluent lottery standings, check back here over the course of the season for updated rankings each morning. To keep tabs on where current Jazz players rank in franchise history, check Jazzbasketball’s extensive record book section on the sidebar that are updated weekly.

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